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Increased selenium and manganese levels during pregnancy can protect babies from developing high blood pressure later in life.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study that found that children who had been exposed to elevated amounts of the trace elements selenium and manganese during their mother’s pregnancy had a lower risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.

Selenium and manganese are antioxidants found in many foods, including grains and nuts, shellfish, leafy vegetables, and fish.

How was this research on higher selenium and manganese levels during pregnancy carried out?

During the study, trace elements and toxic metals were measured in blood tests collected from approximately 1,200 women from Boston who had babies between the years 2002 and the years 2013. Following that, they discovered that increased levels of manganese or selenium in the mothers’ blood had a relationship to lower blood pressure readings in their children three to fifteen years later when visiting the clinics.

Manganese has also been found to have an inverse link with children’s blood pressure, which is stronger. Blood pressure is partly lowered by manganese by counteracting the increase in blood pressure caused by cadmium, which is caused by high levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, in maternal blood.

High blood pressure is an important modifiable risk factor for a variety of life-threatening and debilitating conditions, including stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and kidney failure. It’s also fairly common; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of all American adults aged 20 and up have high blood pressure (defined as a systolic blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure of 80 mm Hg) or have been prescribed antihypertensive drugs.

Link between blood presure, selenium and manganese levels during pregnancy

What previous research on higher selenium and manganese levels during pregnancy has revealed?

Previous research has shown that susceptibility to high blood pressure can begin in childhood, even in the mother’s womb, and protection against it can begin in infancy.

The following points were investigated by the study’s researchers:

  • They compared the blood pressure readings of children to the levels of toxic metals and trace elements in their mothers’ blood;
  • They measured toxic metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, all of which are linked to high blood pressure in adults;
  • They checked the trace elements selenium and manganese, which are related to lower blood pressure;

The study data set included 1194 mum-child pairs from the Boston Birth Cohort Study. The children’s blood pressures were taken at various ages, ranging from three to fifteen years. Most of the mothers were Hispanic (20 %) or Black (61%).

Despite previous research linking mercury, cadmium, and lead to heart disease in adults and high blood pressure, researchers have found no relationship between blood pressure and toxic metals in children. However, they discovered a relationship between mothers’ selenium levels and their children’s lower blood pressure during childhood. Every doubling of maternal selenium levels reduced children’s systolic blood pressure by 6.23 points. Manganese had a similar but weaker connection with blood pressure, with doubling exposure resulting in a 2.62 points reduction in mean systolic blood pressure

blood test on the study about selenium and manganese levels during pregnancy

What is the outcome of this study on increased selenium and manganese levels during pregnancy?

Even though cadmium was not a factor in the children’s blood pressure, the researchers found that when the mother’s cadmium level was higher, the inverse relationship between children’s blood pressure and manganese was stronger. This suggests that manganese may particularly protect against the hypertensive effect of cadmium, and may even hide the hypertensive effect of cadmium in healthy people.

To highlight the link with cadmium, the researchers found that manganese was more strongly related to lower blood pressure in children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. The findings will be replicated in studies involving different birth cohorts, according to the researchers. Johns Hopkins maintains a registry of birth cohort datasets as part of the ECHO (Environmental Influences on Childhood Health Outcomes) program.

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